Embracing Meaninglessness: Wendy Syfret on Nihilism as a Way of Life

If you had to pick a single philosophical doctrine or movement that would be most difficult to defend today, nihilism would be a solid choice. Nihilism is associated with the worst parts of Nietzsche‘s teachings, the rise of Nazi and fascist ideology, the alt-right, and the tendency toward anarchy, chaos, immorality, despair, and destruction. Even the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines nihilism as “the belief that a society’s political and social institutions are so bad that they should be destroyed.”

So writing a book defending nihilism—no matter how many optimistic-sounding adjectives you place in front of it—is a tall order. In fact, it would probably be easier to ditch the term entirely and either invent a new one (like how some authors now use “progressive capitalism” in place of socialism) or, in this case, use a readily available close alternative: existentialism. 

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Does Power Corrupt or Are the Corruptible Attracted to Power? 

Corruptible Book Cover

It’s a familiar story: A corrupt leader rises to power, is often willingly allowed to do so, and proceeds to leave a trail of destruction in his wake (it’s usually, but not always, a male). We see this time and time again throughout history and across the globe. But we never seem to learn. How can we account for this? 

The conventional answer is to blame power itself, as in the proverbial saying “power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” But as political scientist Brian Klaas explains in his latest book, Corruptible: Who Gets Power and How It Changes Us, things are not so simple. While power can indeed corrupt, more often bad people are drawn to positions of power in the first place, and pursue these positions within systems that actually encourage bad behavior. To ensure that the right people are placed in power, we have to do more than focus only on individuals; we need to fix the underlying systems that allow them to thrive. As Klaas wrote:

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Why Your Conscious Experience is Nothing More Than a Controlled Hallucination

One way to think about perception, probably the most natural way, is to compare it to a window, where your mind simply reads out reality exactly as it is. That chair over in the corner, for instance, is the exact shape, color, and texture that you perceive it to be, and your mind is simply capturing this object exactly as it exists in the world. 

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The Power of Rethinking: How to Beat the Overconfidence Effect in Yourself and Others

In 1933, the philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote that “the fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.” While this is just as true today as it was in the early twentieth-century, the problem actually runs deeper; almost everyone recognizes arrogance and overconfidence in others—but never in themselves.

Since the time of Russell, what’s become known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect has been experimentally validated. Research shows—and personal experience confirms—that those who are the least knowledgeable in a subject tend to be the ones who overestimate their own knowledge and abilities, while those that are full of doubt know enough about the topic to better gauge the extent of their ignorance. 

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How to Manage Anxiety by Leveraging the Brain’s Natural Learning Process

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, almost one out of every three US adults will suffer from some form of anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. In addition, among US adults who have experienced an anxiety disorder, around 23 percent report serious impairment and 34 percent report moderate impairment in the normal activities of daily life, work, or school (based on data last updated in 2017). 

This makes anxiety disorders the most common group of mental disorders in the US, affecting tens of millions of individuals each year. But that’s not the worst of it; these numbers represent only the reported or documented disorders. Even if we cannot officially classify our anxiety as severe or chronic, most of us will nevertheless face anxiety in some capacity over the course of the year. In other words, virtually everyone can benefit from learning more about the causes and management of anxiety. 

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How to Practice Stoicism with Marcus Aurelius as Your Guide

Stoicism is a practical philosophy that emphasizes rationality and virtue as the only true goods. Unlike other religious or spiritual practices, Stoicism does not require that you abandon reason or strain your grip on reality; rather, it provides an ethical orientation to life that is fully consistent with our nature as rational, social beings.

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Debating Free Will: Thoughts on the Daniel Dennett/Gregg Caruso Debate

Among the perennial questions of philosophy, free will remains one of the most difficult concepts to reconcile with modern science. On the one hand, our best natural science seems to point to a deterministic universe based on immutable laws of physics, yet on the other, our subjective experience seems to tell us that we have inherent freedom of choice and movement independent of the physical laws. How one chooses to reconcile this paradox largely determines where they stand in the free will debate.

In Just Deserts: Debating Free Will, philosophers Daniel Dennett and Gregg Caruso debate the philosophical merits and moral implications of two opposite and competing positions: compatibilism and free will skepticism (more on those terms shortly). 

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How Our Universal Love for Alcohol Led to the Rise of Civilization

People love to drink. More specifically, people love to drink or otherwise become intoxicated from all corners of the globe and in virtually every civilization throughout history. This underappreciated human universal—one that has surprisingly been ignored by most scholars—is practically begging for an evolutionary explanation. In philosopher Edward Slingerland’s latest book, Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization, we finally get one. 

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Defending the Institutions of Democracy Against the Enemies of Truth 

The bizarre world we currently inhabit—a world about as far removed from “the age of reason” as one could possibly imagine—is a world where “28% of Americans believe that Bill Gates wants to use vaccines to implant microchips in people,” according to a recent YouGov poll. And as if that weren’t cause for concern enough, roughly the same percentage of Americans (26%) believe that the sun revolves around the earth, and not the other way around, according to a 2012 National Science Foundation survey.

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Lessons on Living Well From the Philosophy of David Hume

In a 1776 letter to William Strahan, Adam Smith, reflecting on the life and work of the Scottish Enlightenment philosopher David Hume, wrote the following: “Upon the whole, I have always considered him, both in his lifetime and since his death, as approaching as nearly to the idea of a perfectly wise and virtuous man, as perhaps the nature of human frailty will permit.”

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